Astronomers classify everything that isn’t hydrogen and helium as ‘metals’. This is because the only chemical elements created at the birth of the Universe were hydrogen and helium and they still account for 99% of the ordinary matter in the universe. They were shortly followed by lithium and beryllium, which are both metals.
Every other element was created 400 million years later in the cores of stars by fusion - the nuclear reaction that makes them ‘shine’. Almost every element on earth, including all those in your body, was formed in the heart of a star.
To a chemist, a metal is hard, shiny, malleable, and good at conducting heat and electricity. More than three-quarters of the 118 elements in the periodic table are classed as metals. 16 are classed as ‘non-metals’ and this list contains some of the most abundant elements on earth including oxygen, carbon, nitrogen.
But it’s not quite as simple as that. ‘Metallicity’ turns out to be less an absolute but a phase which most elements – even non-metals - can enter under intense pressure. This squeezes the atoms of gases like helium and hydrogen into tighter, more geometric patterns and allows their electrons to escape, enabling them to conduct electricity.
In 1990, it was shown that solid oxygen hits its metallic phase at a pressure of 96 KiloPascals (about 900 times the pressure of the deepest ocean) and liquid metallic hydrogen is thought to be present in large amounts in the dense interiors of Jupiter, Saturn. So under certain circumstances, most things can become metals.
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
Gallium is a silvery metal soft enough to be cut with a knife. It turns to liquid at just above room temperature, and so will melt if held in the hand for a few moments. It was discovered by Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1838-1912) who claimed to have patriotically named it after France (Gallia in Latin), but in fact cunningly named it after himself. Gallus means ‘cock’ in Latin and Lecoq means ‘the cock’ in French.
It was the first new element to confirm Dmitri Mendeleev’s prediction of the periodic table.
CD players make use of gallium because, when mixed with arsenic, it transforms an electric current directly into laser light, which is used to ‘read’ the data from the discs.
Gallium nitride may replace silicon in computer chips because it is cheaper, more efficient and uses less power – just in time for the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law, which states that the capacity of chips doubles every two years.
Men are like steel. When they lose their temper, they lose their worth.
All living things – including humans, monkeys, mushrooms, grass and Alan Davies – contain metals.
Humans are about 3% ‘metal’ by weight – there are 48 different metals inside us – most obviously calcium in our bones (1.5%), but many others are essential: magnesium is required for 300 key biochemical reactions involving enzymes. Others are just there for no obvious reason, like the traces of gold in our blood (it would take 40,000 people to extract enough for a single gold coin).
In 1917, the U.S. War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to free up metal for war production.
A single ounce of gold can be beaten into a sheet covering nearly 100 square feet, or drawn out into 50 miles of gold wire.
One tonne of scrap from discarded PCs contains more gold than can be produced from 16 tonnes of ore.
In the US, athletes' socks are impregnated with silver to stop their feet smelling.
In 2006 scientists in Australia discovered bacteria which 'breathe out' minute amounts of gold.
Lead was cheerfully used in food preparation for a hundred years after scientists had discovered it was toxic.
Analysis of sewage sludge shows that a city of about 1 million people flushes away $13 million worth of precious metals a year.
In 2013 in Turkey, thieves stole an entire 22 tonne, 82 foot metal bridge overnight.